Friday, August 22, 2014

New Superintendent Workshop

The Kansas Associations of School Boards hosted their annual New Superintendents Workshop on August 21, at the KASB offices.  New superintendents from around the state participated in the day of activities.  Topics included information based on our mission of “Being a Voice, Improving Student Outcomes, and Culture of Service.  Several staff members shared insights into the many services KASB provides for school boards and districts.

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New superintendents in attending were:
Jason Crawford, USD 283 Elk Valley
Lyn Rantz , USD 464 Tonganoxie
Bill Mullins,  USD 364 Marysville
Greg Clark USD 112 Central Plains
Steve Lilly, USD 342 McLouth
Derick Reihart, USD 303 Ness City
Joel Lovesee, USD 205 Bluestem
Tom Dolenz, USD 225, Fowler


KASB asked several experienced superintendents to help participate in the day by sharing insights from their early years in their new role as a district leader.

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Mr. Doug Conwell, from USD 417 Morris County Schools shared insights about the evaluation process and the impact a high quality model can have on improving instruction and impacting achievement.  Mr. Darrell Kohlman, from USD 115 Nemaha Central discussed the many trials and challenges of leading a district through the consolidation process and unifying a newly designed district.  He also share how utilizing KASB Legal Services helped to make his job more manageable.


Dr. Mike Berblinger, from USD 313 Buhler shared the importance of working with the board to establish clear goals and expectations for continuous improvement.   He explained how developing a clear set of goals has allowed he and the board to focus their attention on what really matters to the district and community.  Dr. Berblinger had just concluded his first year as a superintendent.  His insights allowed the new superintendents to witness the influence a new superintendent and the local board can make on the culture and climate of a district.

All in all it was a day of networking and sharing insights with leaders new to role of district leadership.  KASB staff also took the opportunity to create an awareness of the many services we provide for districts that can help improve efficiency and effectiveness.   

Friday, August 15, 2014

Preaching to the Choir

The first few times I heard that expression years ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. Of course we “preach to the choir,” they are always in attendance. Members of the choir are committed and engaged; they want good things to happen and are happy to participate. That is the problem many educational leaders face; we have done a great job telling our story to the people that are committed and engaged. That is good strategy but not a winning one. We need to find a way to spend some time focused on some better ideas.

While traveling the state working with school boards for the past eight years, I have had the good fortune of being part of many wonderful discussions. They always involve education leaders passionate about improving public education. For the past four or five years many of the same concerns or common themes seem to come up at the meetings:
  • The needs of our students and community have changed;
  • We need do a better job of preparing our students with life skills;
  • We want to do more for our students, but we don’t have the necessary resources to make that happen;
  • We must do a better job of helping our kids that are at-risk.
These conversations have happened in districts both large and small and the sense of frustration is palpable. It is even more discouraging for school boards and superintendents when they make the difficult program/personnel decisions based on budget reductions and restrictions. When the measure of our success is efficiency vs. effectiveness, we are fighting a losing battle. The discussion should be about effective and efficient systems, not just cheaper ones.

So how do we move beyond the choir and the congregation and find a way to speak with our community? How do we have a conversation with our stakeholders to find out what they want for their students as they prepare them for the future? What do your students, parents and community members want from our school systems? There are many cities and towns in Kansas right now that are facing critical financial situations. The discussions at some board tables are focused on “how do we keep our doors open” to meet the needs of our students instead of how do we hire staff, add programs, and curricula that will improve student outcomes. When boards and administrators are forced to make the tough decisions angry patrons with legitimate concerns “storm the gates” and demand the school board “fix it.” There is no such thing as an easy fix. I have yet to visit with a school board member or a superintendent in Kansas that didn’t want to do more for their students. Boards are not cutting opportunities for students because they want too; they are doing it because they don’t have the resources necessary to prepare students for success.

How do we move these important discussions beyond the people that already agree with us? A few years ago school districts around the stated hosted “Kansas Conversations.” They were designed and developed to allow community members to come and share thoughts on their local district. We had 90 districts and over 2,000 people share their insights, ideas, and concerns. What we discovered was simple. Everything we do in our schools is important to someone. As one might imagine we had some people throw programs and people under the bus. “We don’t need sports.” “Why is the music/art department such a big deal?” “Why do we need so many teachers/paras in the school?” Yes, there were complaints about buses, meals, activities and taxes, but when they sat down across the table from a fellow community member and heard different parents perspective, suddenly they were a lot less critical and had a better understanding of “all” students. Some parents told stories of the importance of the fine arts; others share how important sports were to their child’s success. Everything our schools do is important to someone. That is the important message. We need to help our communities understand “WHY” it costs more to prepare our students for the future in 2014, than it did in 1974.

In closing, nearly every day I have a discussion with Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy and communication. They are always about the same topics, the importance of education, the future of education, what can we do to better share the message with our members. Therein lays the issue. Many of our members are well informed and committed to the cause of public education. We have come to realize that we can’t keep doing what we have always done. We have to take a different approach. We have to speak up and share our vision with more than just people that agree with us. Now we have to raise our voices and speak with all of the people in our district and community. The famous quote from John Lewis says: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” It really is up to us to carry this message. Let’s stop preaching to just the choir, and let’s get started today.

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Board Leaders Workshop

This past week KASB hosted two days of training for new board leaders.  Over 70 people from across the state attended sessions in Hays and Topeka.  The topics included discussions on board culture and the importance of student achievement for communities.
Dr. Brian Jordan facilitated the workshop with support from KASB staff.  This year’s workshop was designed in a much more interactive model.  Much of the day was spent in peer groups sharing insights and comparing board experiences.  A benefit of these sessions was the networking opportunities established by meeting new individuals with a mutual purpose. The lessons were prepared around common issues related to board leadership.  The participants were actively engaged in learning through doing during these workshops
Both days provided opportunities for questions for the KASB legal staff surrounding executive sessions and board procedures.  We ended both days with a “mock board meeting”  to present teachable moments to share best practices.
Over all it was two great days of learning.  Kansas is so fortunate to have so many wonderful people willing to serve communities in this important task.  The passion for students and schools was on display this past week  The staff at KASB was pleased have the opportunity serve educational leaders in their quest for continuous improvement.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Balanced Leadership, being intentional with leadership

 “Summer is three months off between the end of school and the start of the next school year.”  How often do educators hear that quote?  Recently at KASB a group of 18 educational leaders took some of that “time off,” to gain a better understanding of the research surrounding effective educational leadership.  As participants in the Balanced Leadership program, this group of educational leaders will spend a total of seven days working with the Leadership Services staff refining and developing their skills as educational leaders.  The participants spent the first two days unpacking the research associated with the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, and reflecting on their own leadership behaviors.  They discussed and reflected on how they manage change they face within their schools.  One of the key pieces of knowledge educational leaders discussed is how the magnitude of change is directly connected to the perceptions of the individual experiencing the change.  
The educational leaders were also asked to reflect on their school’s focus. Are we spending our time and resources on people and programs that impact achievement? The administrative teams reviewed research and discussed ideas that will yield the desired results? McREL’s Balanced Leadership program is designed to enhance the skills of building level leaders.  A major outcome of the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, is equipping leaders to shift the focus to those practices that have research based, results driven programs.  
Is our school community purposeful?  Have all stakeholders agreed on outcomes that align to our students’ needs. Class members discussed topics ranging from developing collective efficacy to improve and enhance building culture to managing first and second order change. Those are the core questions the educational leaders considered as they assessed their school community.  Our school community often has not answered these critical questions, and consequently do not make the desired gains, as their processes and resources are spread too thin.
The educational leaders here at KASB early this week spent time working and sharing knowledge and insights, learning from past experience as they worked to improve their leadership skills.  It is always impressive to work with committed, hardworking school leaders.

The educational leaders’ Balanced Leadership training is a partnership between KASB and McREL.  It is based on the proven research and resources of McREL and focuses participants on the knowledge and skills needed to bring about the changes required to improve student achievement.  For more information, please contact KASB.  

Leadership for Tomorrow heads to southwest Kansas

Every year since the Leadership for Tomorrow program was established at KASB in 2004, a session has been held in western Kansas. This year was no exception. Fifteen of the 17 participants were in Ulysses and Hugoton last week to learn about schools in the two communities. As is generally the case, learning about the communities was also a valuable part of the visit. Several of the participants, other than passing through western Kansas on their way to Colorado, had never had the opportunity to learn about the richness of life in western Kansas, particularly in the booming southwest part of the state.

From massive fields of succulent corn enabled by the creeping mechanical giants known as a center pivot irrigation system to the feedlots that allowed thousands of cattle at a time to be fattened up on their last stop before a slaughterhouse located in Liberal, Dodge or Garden City, our travelers were able to observe first-hand the different industries that feed a hungry nation. They also had opportunities to learn about the diverse populations of the area. What had originally been predominantly white communities 20-30 years ago are now heavily Hispanic, while the schools themselves are a minority/majority district, as in Ulysses, or a very balanced mix, as in Hugoton. The blending of ethnicities is not the only change. On top of the original Protestants and Catholics, there is a growing number of Mennonites arriving from Mexico that speak neither Spanish nor English, but what is known as Low German.  These changes have made for some tremendous challenges in what these two districts need to do to successfully offer their students a quality education.

The economic conditions of the two districts have also changed. While both still have high levels of wealth per student, 2-3 times the state average, student bodies of the districts have grown increasingly poor. In the 2013-14 school year, Ulysses reported a free/reduced lunch rate of 62 percent. Hugoton’s was 59 percent. The state average is close to 50 percent.

In Ulysses,Superintendent Dave Younger, a 2013 LFT alum, led a tour of district facilities. It included viewing remodeling projects designed primarily to enhance student and staff security and visiting a new facility the district recently purchased that will make district maintenance and purchasing operations more efficient by bringing them together. He cited last year’s LFT visit to Salina as inspiration for the purchase.

In Hugoton, participants were given an extensive opportunity to learn about the district’s charter school, one of 11 operating in the state, from Superintendent Mark Crawford, another LFT alum. What sets the school apart from many other alternative schools across the state is HLA's focus on a very unique student population: undocumented students from Mexico that have accompanied their parents from Mennonite communities in northern Mexico. Although many of the students know some English, their parents generally only speak a German dialect. Perhaps even more difficult than overcoming the language barrier is these families bring a tradition where schooling usually ends before 16 for both boys and girls, and that simply doing the necessary work of running a farm or a household are generally the only educational expectations.

On top of the visits, KASB staff facilitated several spirited discussions. One was on the importance of identifying the district’s key outcomes and keeping the focus of district efforts on those outcomes. A second was on the role of evaluation in keeping instruction at a high level.

As with most other KASB events, food functions played a key role in building the networking that is an essential part of the LFT experience. The highlight was a bar-b-q in Ulysses in the backyard of board member Dave Otis Thursday night. Dave and his wife were ably aided by the Youngers and Roger Hilton, Ulysses assistant superintendent and LFT participant, and his wife. It may have been the chilliest July bar-b-q in southwest Kansas history as many of the folks were sporting sweatshirts and jackets! Not surprisingly, Mexican food was on the menu for a number of participants Wednesday night in Great Bend and Thursday for lunch in Ulysses.

Even though a number of them had a pretty good drive ahead of them, many participants mingled around after the conclusion of the program talking about the session, what they would take home with them and what to look forward to at the Sept. 10 and 11 session in Wichita.

Although the LFT participants saw southwest Kansas at the top of its game, the reliance of the Ogallala Aquifer to fuel the booming farming/livestock industry is always part of the picture. Read about long-term concerns for the aquifer here.

To learn about KASB’s Leadership for Tomorrow program, visit www.kasb.org/lft

Thursday, July 3, 2014

QFIC, Not Just Another Educational Acronym

QFIC, no it does not stand for the Quebec Forest Industry Council, I know that is what you all were thinking!  QFIC, or Quality, Fidelity, Intensity, Consistency is a mindset that we teach when working with districts on their leadership development and evaluation systems.  


Many of you are thinking, “why do we need another acronym to confuse us, and the people that we try to inspire, as we lead our buildings and districts.”  QFIC is a mindset that we have to develop and reinforce within our organization, and it starts with the leaders of that organization. This summer I have had some great opportunities to work with districts on developing the QFIC mindset as they reflect on the implementation of their “new” evaluation systems.  These districts are trying to ensure that they are getting the highest level of effectiveness with the evaluation systems they implemented this past year.  We have worked with them on improving the quality of the evaluation process, fidelity to the intended purposes of the evaluation system, intensity that they exhibit as they use the evaluation process, and consistency as they calibrate common levels of expectations within the system while doing the evaluation process.


The questions your administrative team needs to consider as you work to instill a QFIC mindset around evaluation include:


Are we asking the “right” questions when conducting the pre-evaluation and post observation conferences?  These questions are a critical piece of the evaluation process, and when done well bring quality, insights and reflection to the process that will drive improvement of instruction and leadership.  The evaluator should be developing questions prior to the conferences that force the evaluee to reflect on their professional practices, and make the link between their actions and results.  


Do all the users of your evaluation system “look for” and “see” the same things happening when conducting observations?  “Norming” your evaluation system is a practice that should be done at a minimum on an annual basis to ensure consistency of expectations and reduce variability across your system.


Do the professional goals established link back to the areas of need for the evaluee and support the overarching district goals?  As evaluator and evaluee sit down to craft their professional goals they should be focusing on areas that will translate to improved results in the classroom or across the school.  These goals should include measurable outcomes that if met assist the school with reaching their improvement goals.  The goals developed should also incorporate the language found within the evaluation instrument. References can then be made back to the instrument by the evaluee and evaluator so they can easily monitor growth towards the established goal.

Do the artifacts collected validate and support the level of practice by the professional?  As artifacts are collected, the evaluator and evaluee need to consider artifacts that best represent their professional abilities.  When it comes to artifacts, more is less! A system defining and deciding on quality artifacts will help the evaluee understand the expectations related to quality instructional and leadership practices.  Systems should be considering model artifacts that can be shared with evaluees so they can see and understand what quality professional practice looks like in their role.


These are a few of the questions that administrative teams should be considering as they strive to establish QFIC related to their evaluation system. Answers to the questions will continue to be important as evaluation expands over the next school year to include student growth measures. Fidelity and consistency will be very important as systems begin to analyze the data from their evaluation system to provide ongoing professional development and make personnel decisions.  QFIC is really all about culture. Systems that are working effectively and efficiently thrive on a culture of high expectations, peer support and a desire to continuously improve, in other words QFIC.


KASB leadership services staff has worked with some districts recently on these topics as they have made it through year one of implementing their new evaluation system, and are wanting to improve how evaluation is conducted in their system.  Give us a call and we would be glad to work with your team.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Another Year Gone By......




Wow, what a fast year.  Time sure flies when we are having fun.  We know, it wasn’t all fun, but as you wrap up another year with all of the spring sports, concerts, events and of course graduation take a few minutes and reflect on the year.  We are sure there were many great days for your students and staff, as well as new knowledge discovered and shared.  There were surely moments of inspiration and frustration, but education hopefully continues to be a rewarding profession for you.  Getting to observe a year of progress through so many eyes provides many powerful lessons.  As we look forward to next year and begin to map out the course for our schools and districts, lessons from this year’s litany of changes in the educational world should prove very valuable.


We thought we might take a minute to review the year in Leadership Services.  


As many of you know we added the highly motivated and talented Gary Sechrist to our team.  He has brought a new dynamic to the Leadership Services team that will help us align services to educational leaders at all levels of the system.  He has spent a great deal of time this year building the relationships with superintendents, boards and educational leaders as evidenced by him visiting every district west of Highway 81 some of them multiple times.  What an asset he has become to KASB.


Dr. Jordan began year two right where he left off.  Personnel evaluation continues to be a topic that consumes much of our energy and effort in districts across the state.  McREL Evaluation trainings at both district and building levels were a large part of the work throughout last summer and fall.  Then multiple measures burst on to the scene after the first of the year... He continues to take an active role in the planning of regional meetings and seminars to better serve our members.


We feel the Leadership Services team brings a balance of experience, knowledge, and practical sense through the services they develop and deliver .  We feel fortunate to be able to work together as a team to deliver quality services.  As you all are aware we are willing to travel anywhere to meet the needs of our member districts.


Just a quick count on projects that might be a surprise to some. This past year Leadership Services lead:


87 Whole Board Trainings (many were planning and goals setting sessions)
8   Community wide strategic planning sessions.
24 Superintendent Searches
59 Off Site Trainings (mostly McREL, evaluation, or multiple measures workshops)
4 Balanced Leadership Trainings


We have also watched our partnership with ESC’s and McREL expand as professional development requirements focused on achievement continue to drive school improvement.


Leadership Services worked with over 1,800 school leaders this past year.  That includes board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, and community members.


As you start planning for the upcoming year don’t hesitate to give us a call.  We can help make your job a little easier.


We are looking forward to seeing many of you at the summer advocacy tours.  Don’t forget, to find some time to relax, we know as educational leaders you are already planning for enrollment and back to school days with faculty and staff.  Let’s make next year another great year!